“…I realized that life is a great theater, a powerful breath that can be captured…” – P. Belhassen
Marseille Allogène, by French photographer Pierre Belhassen, beautifully distills the unique essence of his adopted hometown.
Street photography boasts a long and storied history. For generations, some of the medium’s greatest practitioners have sought to capture the oddities and intrigue of their surroundings through candid, unposed imagery, that collectively conveys the diverse tapestry of everyday life, something Belhassen’s first offering exemplifies beautifully.
Born in Paris, Belhassen’s journey into photography began relatively late. It was 2005 and on the eve of a trip to NYC, he was gifted his first camera by his father. New York’s frenetic streets have long provided endless inspiration for photographers and did so for the 27-year-old Belhassen, who said he felt an “irrepressible desire to observe life through the prism of my camera,” a passion that has since remained with him.
He later relocated to Marseille, a city he initially knew little about, and thus turned to his camera as a vehicle for exploration, seeking to answer the question, “What is a home? Is it a place, a feeling, a condition?” which ultimately set the foundation for this project.
Marseille, France’s second most populous city, is rich in history and culture, a bustling port with palm-lined streets, and a vibrant multicultural ambience.
Using a Leica M, Belhassen expertly captures the city’s unique energy. Blending curiosity and familiarity, akin to a father observing his young children with warmth, tenderness, and sometimes bemusement, he captures fragments of daily life, transforming them into captivating compositions, bathed in the warm glow of the Mediterranean sun.
“I approached this project with the angle of flânerie, without forcing anything, letting the images come to me. Everything we do always points to who we are and what we’re looking for, and we can’t escape this reality because, at the end of the day, everything is a self-portrait. The magic of this process is that you never know how that little idea that crosses your mind in the present moment might give life to a photograph. You have to dare, of course, and continue to seek out encounters with the landscape and its inhabitants without haste, and love new lands, people, and naturally their cultures.”
The ‘theater of everyday life’ might be somewhat of a cliche when used in reference to street photography, yet, when seen through the eyes of a skilled and perceptive practitioner, quotidian moments, particularly when combined, undeniably embody this concept. Belhassen’s series beautifully exemplifies this notion, through his gaze the diverse mosaic that are Marseille’s streets are transformed into a captivating stage, its denizens, to characters, frozen, mid-performance.
The result is a captivating body of work that captures the unique spirit of Belhassen’s adopted home city, paying tribute to its distinct character, and demonstrates his artistry, dexterity, and skill.
“…We need to anchor ourselves as much as possible in the moment, searching again and again for what is beautiful in our eyes, giving it form, bringing it to life. It’s not about getting the image you want, but wanting the image you get.”
All images © Pierre Belhassen
Marseille Allogène the recently published photobook is available here.